It’s been almost a year since we announced Oculus Venues on stage at OC4, and we’re thrilled to be able to livestream this year’s Oculus Connect keynotes and esports in Venues. To celebrate, we sat down with Oculus Product Manager and London Site Lead Mike LeBeau for the inside scoop on this landmark social VR event.
How did the plan to livestream the OC5 keynote and esports events in Oculus Venues first come about?
Mike LeBeau: The idea to bring the excitement of Oculus Connect to Venues actually came about last year during OC4. I got to know Steve Heuseveldt, one of the event producers for Connect, and he and I got really excited about ways we could collaborate on this. Fast forward a year, and Venues has now been out in the world for a few months and is proving to be a great experience, so we decided OC5 was the right time for our first integration!
Oculus Connect has always been my favorite way that we bring the community of VR developers and enthusiasts together, and we’re thrilled to bring that same value into VR itself, for folks who can’t make the trip out to San Jose.
What are some of the challenges you and your team faced to make that vision a reality? How did you overcome the obstacles you encountered?
ML: By now, we’ve streamed a fair number of different types of live events in Venues, like concerts, comedy nights, and sports, but OC5 brings us both live keynotes and esports, which are new for us. Each new event creates new challenges and learning opportunities for us, as we try to capture the right vibe, get the right framing and viewpoints, and really convey the ambience of the real-world event in Venues. This is really the evolution of the challenges we detailed about the design of Venues when we launched.
Esports in particular raised a bunch of interesting new questions. We’ve been playing with how best to represent both the live game action and the view of the players in the auditorium simultaneously within the 180° stream. We’ve had fun iterating on the best experience, and we think our virtual attendees will really love what we’ve come up with.
After its announcement at OC4, it seems fitting that Venues will play an even larger role in this year’s event. Any thoughts you’d like to share as your team celebrates this milestone?
ML: I’m so proud of the amazing team that is building Venues, and we’re all thrilled that the experience is bringing thousands of people together to enjoy great experiences together in VR from all around the world. With most of the Venues team based out here with me in London, our mission to defy distance means a lot to us personally. It’s really magical for us to see people enjoying events together, having great interactions, and making new friends, and we hope for you all, too.
We’ve got some fun surprises in store for OC5 in Venues that we’ll be announcing at the conference, so stay tuned! We’re just at the very beginning of all the amazing things we’re planning for this product, so keep an eye out for lots of exciting new developments soon.
Any interesting anecdotes you can share from early tests or any of your prep work on the road to OC5?
ML: Working on VR is a blast, generally speaking, but Venues is a uniquely fun project to work on because of the live aspect and all the interesting events we get to be a part of. So much of what we do is similar to live event production in the real world, and some of the most fun experiences have been the times with the team during “virtual sound check,” where we make sure that everything is working well with the livestream ahead of the event.
Early on, this involved a lot of wearing the headset while also talking on the phone to the onsite production team to tweak Venues camera angles and positions in real time. It’s a pretty surreal and fun experience to have direct real-time interaction with the scene you’re watching live in Venues. More recently, in preparation for streaming esports at OC5, one of our engineers, Pieter De Baets, headed up to a big ESL event in Leicester, England with our production team to run a test stream and iterate on the experience while at the event itself. It’s really fun to be directly involved with so many cool events.
What originally brought you to Oculus and Facebook? How has your role evolved over time?
ML: I was a software engineer at Google for many years prior to Facebook, where I helped start a bunch of Google’s early voice recognition products. I joined Facebook in New York back in 2014 and moved to London at the beginning of 2016 to start and lead the Oculus team out here, and I juggle between product leadership and overall site leadership in my role. It’s been a joy and a highlight of my career to work with these amazing people as my colleagues and friends.
We started the site with a strong belief in the power of social VR, and the London site has a large focus on building great experiences like Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, and a number of other exciting things yet to be released. We’ve grown a ton since we started out and are now a large product site with employees across all kinds of roles like engineering, design, user research, product management, and QA. One of the most exciting challenges in my role has been maintaining the fun, magic, and great execution of our teams as we continue to grow and scale our impact.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
ML: We’re hiring across the board here in London! Check out our open listings, and please get in touch if you’re interested.
Mike will join Facebook Product Managers Cecile Eskenazi and Cody Sumter at OC5 to present “VR for Everyone: Lessons for Building Compelling Social VR Experiences.” Ready to learn more? Check out the full OC5 schedule or click here to register.